Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Running the rogaine: pre-race

We're back in London after a cold few days in Estonia; and an excellent rogaining experience.

The bus through to the event venue at the Karula National Park was quick (1h30) and uneventful, but gave us a look at the country side, which evolved from mostly flat farmlands to rolling hillocks and forests - very pretty. Although it was toasty inside the bus, it was freezing outside, with the temperature sitting around 8C.

The venue itself was festive, dotted with tents, cars and rogainers - lots of all three. Many of the local Estonian rogainers would only arrive in the morning. With no check-in until the next morning, we setup out tent, scoped the facilities (few that there were) and chatted to a few other participants.

We bought dins from a make-shift tent-kitchen; Heather has a potato and sausage thing (sausages of all kinds are popular in Estonia) while I had a tasty mashed potato and pearl barley mush with some or other sauce. Half-way through the meal I shot off to the International Rogaining Federation meeting, getting a bit of an insight into the global rogaining scene, which is really still quite restricted to a handful of countries, but with participation numbers growing in each.

We'd packed our race packs in Tartu, so the only thing left to do was to sleep for as long as possible. We were prepared for the unseasonable cold with inflatable camp mattresses, two lightweight down sleeping bags each and warm clothing. Perfectly snug.

At 09h00 we registered, receiving indemnity forms that warned of injury by stepping into ditches, hypothermia, stinging nettles and electric fence shocks - amongst others. We duly signed on the dotted line, returning our forms at 10h00 in exchange for 1:40000 maps, which seems to have a lot of blue colouring - the expected marshes. Every team had to hand in their proposed route before the start, so we got cracking on looking at the distribution of the 63 controls, points allocations and possible routes.

The area was clearly divided North and South, linked by options to the East and West of the lake. The hash house (event centre) lay on the lake's eastern bank, about midway along the coast. This would make it difficult to access.

Heather and I just before the start; cold obliterates all fashion sense.

We'd decided pre-race to head back to the hash house during the night to collect more food and also the Silva headlamp plus its two heavy batteries and another regular headlamp. We knew that accessing the hash house would be difficult to work in and that we'd be in for distance; but we hoped it would work out better than carrying everything from start to finish and would give us the opportunity to get hot food during the long, cold night. This would be our undoing and our major error of the race.

Our plan would be to head North, sweeping from East to West and skipping the controls located in terrain that looked decidedly marshy. We wanted to avoid the cold and wet as much as possible on Saturday to save splashing through swamps on Sunday morning when we'd only have a few hours to go. The other unknown was how fast we would be able to move over the terrain, which affect when and where we would be when we'd need to head back to the hash house, and also how difficult it may be to navigate in the forests, across marsh and between hillocks.

We knew we'd complete our Northern route and would just play the rest by ear. This would be something new for both of us, so we were prepared to just get out there and learn as we went along.

Down at the start the participants were grouped, ready to set off. We, like them, were bundled up against the cold with light shells, beanies and gloves. A horn blast signalled the start - and we all shot off in different directions.

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